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Environmental groups sue Army Corps of Engineers over pipeline permitting

The Hill logo The Hill 5/3/2021 Zack Budryk
a close up of a green traffic light: Environmental groups sue Army Corps of Engineers over pipeline permitting © getty Environmental groups sue Army Corps of Engineers over pipeline permitting

A coalition of five environmental groups on Monday sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying the corps did not properly analyze environmental impacts when issuing a broad pipeline permit.

The plaintiffs, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Waterkeeper Alliance and Montana Environmental Information Center, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Montana.

The permit at issue, Permit 12, is a so-called nationwide permit that streamlines the pipeline permitting process. The corps estimates its 2021 version will be used more than 40,000 times over the next five years.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that although national permits are intended for activities with negligible environmental impacts, the projected uses of Permit 12 will affect more than 3,000 acres of U.S. waters and threaten endangered species. It would also allow major pipelines to begin construction under the nationwide permitting process instead of undergoing stricter regulatory scrutiny.

The lawsuit further argues that the permit violates the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act

While the Biden administration has called for a review of nationwide permits, it has also allowed the 2021 version of Permit 12, reissued in the final days of the Trump administration, to take effect, according to the lawsuit.

"The Corps' failure to comply with bedrock environmental laws requires immediate attention," Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "There's simply no justification for allowing destructive and dangerous pipelines to avoid rigorous environmental review, and it's disheartening to see the Corps continue to flaunt its obligation to protect our nation's waters and imperiled wildlife."

"Nationwide Permit 12 is a tool for corporate polluters to fast-track climate-destroying oil and gas pipelines and exempt them from critical environmental reviews and consultations," added Sierra Club senior attorney Doug Hayes. "While the Biden administration has promised a review of the Corps' program, it has allowed this new permit to take effect in the meantime, a delay which is detrimental to wildlife, waterways and our climate. There's no time to waste in eliminating this process, which only serves to bolster the oil and gas industry's bottom lines."

A federal court ruled in a separate lawsuit that the permit's 2017 iteration was a violation of the Endangered Species Act. In July 2020, the Supreme Court reinstated it, but declined to renew it specifically for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The administration rescinded the permit for the Keystone pipeline, but has not taken action to halt the Dakota Access pipeline, drawing the ire of environmental groups.

A spokesperson told The Hill the corps does not comment on ongoing litigation.

--Updated at 1:53 p.m.

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